Priest documents both sides of immigration dilemma

ROCHESTER — In documenting experiences from his work along the U.S.-Mexican border, Father Daniel Groody has spent a substantial amount of time with law enforcement agents.

He recounted some of his personal experiences with these agents during a John Henry Cardinal Newman lecture, "Globalization: What’s Left for the Immigrant," presented Sept. 28 at the University of Rochester. Among the audience of more than 30 people was Brigit Hurley from Catholic Family Center, who asked how the border patrol agents reconcile their job with their faith beliefs.

Father Groody explained that he often did reveal that he was a priest until half way through his time with an agent. Once he did reveal his religious work, the reactions were mixed, he added.

"Sometimes, it closed the door and sometimes it opened a door," he said. "One agent asked me, ‘Do you think it’s a sin that I work for Border Patrol?’ … But it was helpful for me to work with them and see a side of a situation I hadn’t seen before."

Those varied reactions also demonstrated the moral dilemma posed by immigration, noted Father Groody, a Holy Cross priest and assistant professor of theology and the director of the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. More than 2000 million of the world’s people are migrants, he added.

"It is why we talk about comprehensive reform," Father Groody said. "This is much more than enforcement."

Father Groody has written several books and is the executive producer of various films and documentaries, including Strangers No Longer (produced for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) and Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey. He showed a clip of the latter film during his Newman lecture.

"Migration itself is not the problem," said Father Groody. "It’s a symbol of a deeper problem related to the imbalances of society. … And the imbalance in the modern world is also rooted in the imbalance in each one of us."

That imbalance includes the fact that about half of the world’s 6 billion people earn $2 a day, he added. And the three richest men on the planet, including Bill Gates and William Buffet, together make as much as the poorest 48 nations, he noted.

"The solution to reorder of society is in part related to politics and … related to the reordering of the heart," he said.

Father Groody said Christians should deal with immigration pastorally, spiritually and theologically. Doing so means caring for the displaced, listening to their stories and deciphering our role in the whole process of migration, he added.

The United States remains in conflict about this issue because those opposed to illegal immigration say this country has a right to protect its borders, a right to promote the common good, and a right to protect its residents from violence. Migrant worker advocates, meanwhile, focus on the immigrant’s rights to a dignified life, an ability to provide for one’s family and protection from undue need.

"How do we reframe this?" said Father Groody. "God crosses over all these divisions we create."

He said the theological foundation for immigration is based on four main principles:

  • Humans are made in the image and likeness of God and thus are are not meant to be degraded or dehumanized.
  • Solidarity with people who are suffering is critical to the mission of Christ.
  • Christ crossed the divine-human divide and the border of sin, and did so at great cost to himself.
  • Christ rejected the rejection of the Pharisees and the Romans, and leads the way for all Christians.

"The true alien is the one who is so disconnected (he does) not recognize that, indeed, the immigrant embodies who one is before God," said Father Groody.

"We are a people on a journey with God. … a God who has come down to break down borders and reconnect us with each other."
Brett Lighthouse, a parishioner from Holy Ghost Church in Gates, said Father Groody’s talk was eye-opening. After hearing about the event at a Theology on Tap session, he said that the Holy Spirit moved him to attend.

"It reminded me that we are subject to a (power) great than our government, greater than our economy," he said. "We have to remember that in living the faith."
Father Brian Cool, campus director for the Newman Catholic Community at the University of Rochester, agreed that Father Groody’s lecture — part of a series open to the public — offered unique, thought-provoking perspectives on the immigration debate.

"We need to not only look at this from an economic standpoint but how it affects the human person," he said.

Copyright © 2024 Rochester Catholic Press Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

No, Thanks